The militarization of the United States police forces dates back to 1965, when the first United States SWAT unit was created as a response to the Watts Uprising and similar mass revolts. Before the Occupy Wall Street Movement, there were similar mass protest movements beginning in the late 1990′s around the issues of corporate globalization. The target of these protests were global financial institutions such as the WTO, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, the IMF. The most well know of these was the Seattle WTO protest in late 1999 known as the “Battle of Seattle,” but other examples include the A16 protest in Washington, DC in spring 2000, and the Free Trade of the Americas Protest in Miami, Florida in November of 2003. Each of these protests have been accompanied by improved capabilities of SWAT teams across the United States. September 11, 2001 was the major catalyst for the militarization for police forces across the country with Congress passing the Patriot Act, and the president creating the Department of Homeland Security. The United States (Un)Patriot Act, was the single most destructive piece of legislation to come after September 11th, which granted law enforcement federal grants for surveillance technologies and riot and crowd control equipment. The Department of Homeland Security played another major role by loosely distributing the grant money to local law enforcement agencies. In my article in the December issue of Raging Chicken Press, “Battlefield USA: From Occupy Wall Street to Guantatmo Bay,” I discussed the tactics law enforcement are using to break up the Occupy encampments, the capabilities of police forces across the country and the United States Congress abetting the rise of the police state with the passage of the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act. The National Defense Authorization Act allows for the indefinite arrest of United States citizens in military prisons for support or suspected support of terrorist organizations. What constitutes “terrorist organizations” is rather broad and evasive because alongside naming organizations such as Hamas, Hezzbollah, Al Queda the 2012 NDAA also refers to “other.” Critics have pointed out that “other” could be applied to anyone supporting the Occupy Movement or other activist organizations. If you think this is a stretch, then you should know that in the UK the London Police Department has already listed the Occupy London group as an official terrorist group–and England, of course, is one of the strongest allies of the United States in the “War Against Terror.”
Two Demonstrations that set new Precedents
November 30, 1999 ushered in a new era of anti-globalization activism in the United States. On that date in Seattle, the World Trade Organization Ministerial Conference attracted tens of thousands of anti-globalization activist and union members were all fighting against the organizations neo-liberal trade policies. The peaceful protests were organized by the Direct Action Network, whose goal, which was met, was to shut down the conference. In the morning hours, the Seattle Police Department, lead by Police Chief Norm Stamper, released tear gas and fired rubber bullets into the crowds of peaceful protesters, who were locked down in an open act of civil disobedience. The protesters successfully broke down the trade negotiations, which set a future precedent for future WTO meetings. Norm Stamper, who has since recanted his actions, became the figurehead for the militarization of police departments and has laid out the ground work on how to disperse future demonstrations.
In November 2003, protesters descended upon Miami, FL for a series of demonstrations against the Free Trade of the Americas (FTAA) agreement, which built upon the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) to reduce trade barriers between 34 out of 35 states in the Western Hemisphere. The agreement was met with staunch opposition from South American countries, who have witnessed American supported coups during the 1970’s and 1980’s, that “eliminated trade barriers” so American corporations could make immense profits off cheap, exploitable labor. The FTAA conference was met with over 10,000 demonstrators ranging from anti-globalization protesters to union workers fighting to keep American jobs in the country, but they were also met with a heavily militarized Miami Police Department, headed by Captain John Timoney. The Miami PD was heavily equipped with armor, riot shields, tear gas and flash bang grenades and rubber bullets. The police department was also fortunate that downtown Miami was laid out in a grid pattern which allowed for the cops to kettle protestors, just like what we have witnessed in New York City during the Occupy Wall Street protests.
The reasons why police departments are looking at the Battle in Seattle example and the Miami Model are because they handled large dissent in a non-peaceful and time efficient manner. Occupy demonstrations across the country have been kettled by police departments with orange nets, have been pepper sprayed in multiple cities, and have been dispersed with tear gas and flash bang grenades. Police departments are also using a tactic that was perfected during the Iraqi Occupation. Most of the major evictions occurred during the early morning hours, which was a tactic developed by American troops, in Iraq, when they swiftly captured suspected terrorist in the early morning hours.
Patriot Act and Department of Homeland Security
In a knee-jerk response just days after September 11, 2001,President George W. Bush created the Department of Homeland Security to be led by former Pennsylvania Governor, Tom Ridge. And just weeks after the terrorist attacks, the United States Senate and House of Representatives passed, nearly unanimously, the highly controversial Patriot Act, which allowed wiretapping suspected terror suspects, inside and outside of the United States, the indefinite detention of terror suspects abroad, the distribution of federal grants to local law enforcement agencies, and a lengthy list of controversial clauses. With the demonstrations and evictions of Occupy sites throughout the country, we are witnessing first-hand the intentions of the Patriot Act and the Department of Homeland Security.
Testimony from the Federal Document Clearing House Congressional Testimony reveals that months after the September 11th attacks Carolyn Maloney (D), US House Member, and Rudolph Giuliani, New York’s Mayor, were invited to a Permanent Select Intelligence Committee hearing. Mayor Giuliani, a hasty proponent of the Patriot Act, was praising the act and the creation of the Joint Terrorism Task Force that allows a constant flow of communication and information between federal, state and local agencies. During the meeting the New York Mayor was quoted saying: “[T]here are 600,000 sworn law enforcement in our country. We need to activate that immense local resource to work in concert with federal law enforcement to be the ‘on the street’ eyes and ears.” Representative Maloney, another supporter of the Patriot Act, was describing that “criminals and terrorist” are using far more specific means of communication, the cell phone and the e-mail, and the recently passed Patriot Act will give local law enforcement the “tools” they need to organize and fight the terrorist. Representative Maloney then went on to describe providing further help to local law enforcement:
I will soon introduce legislation that would increase the number of JTTFs in the country and further provide the resources to local governments so that they can have ample representations on the JTTFs. Local law enforcement is stretched to its fullest capabilities, we, the federal government must provide them with the needed resources. We must deploy the 600,000 eyes and ears. Our country’s safety must be paramount.
Now the questions are what provisions of the Patriot Act have allocated grants and funding for local law enforcement agencies? In the Patriot Act, Section 1005, “First Responders Assistance Act,” allows for the US Attorney General to make “Terrorist Prevention Grants,” which would allow local law enforcement to use grant money for “programs, projects and other activities. Section 1005 reads in full:
“SEC. 1005. FIRST RESPONDERS ASSISTANCE ACT.
(a) GRANT AUTHORIZATION- The Attorney General shall make grants described in subsections (b) and (c) to States and units of local government to improve the ability of State and local law enforcement, fire department and first responders to respond to and prevent acts of terrorism.
(b) TERRORISM PREVENTION GRANTS- Terrorism prevention grants under this subsection may be used for programs, projects, and other activities to–
(1) hire additional law enforcement personnel dedicated to intelligence gathering and analysis functions, including the formation of full-time intelligence and analysis units;
(2) purchase technology and equipment for intelligence gathering and analysis functions, including wire-tap, pen links, cameras, and computer hardware and software;
(3) purchase equipment for responding to a critical incident, including protective equipment for patrol officers such as quick masks;
(4) purchase equipment for managing a critical incident, such as communications equipment for improved interoperability among surrounding jurisdictions and mobile command posts for overall scene management; and
(5) fund technical assistance programs that emphasize coordination among neighboring law enforcement agencies for sharing resources, and resources coordination among law enforcement agencies for combining intelligence gathering and analysis functions, and the development of policy, procedures, memorandums of understanding, and other best practices.”
The Department of Homeland Security is the government agency responsible for the distribution of funds and grants to local law enforcement. In a recent Salon.com article, “How the Feds Fuled the Milirarization of Police,” Justin Elliot describes a recent story by the Center for Investigative Reporting. The Center discovered the distribution of $34 billion in federal grants that has allowed local police departments to stockpile machines and anti-terror equipment that has hardly been used. The Center’s report, “Local Police Stockpile High-Tech Combat Ready Gear,” by Andrew Becker and GW Schultz, shows the transformation of police forces into miniature military units, and the report claims there is a lack of oversight regarding how the money is being spent. For instance, in Fargo, North Dakota, a city that averages less than two murders a year, spent over $250,000 on an armored truck with a revolving turret on the roof. Fargo’s justification for purchasing the truck was to prevent a hypothetical attack similar to the Mumbai attack. Becker and Schultz further report that the Federal Emergency Management Agency is responsible for distributing the DHS grants, which in the past year were awarded $500 million through the recovery act. The article also has an interactive map, which details the state by state federal grant spending.
The Post 9/11 Arsenal
The Department of Homeland Security and the Patriot Act have opened up the federal government’s checkbooks and have allowed local police forces to go on a military-esque shopping spree. The nationwide crackdowns of the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations, through October, 2011 to December, 2011, witnessed by the public, have shed light upon the upgraded police equipment, which became available through federal aid. Local law enforcement have gained major upgrades in surveillance technologies and crowd control equipment. It is alarming to see this new array of equipment being used to disperse protesters, and in some cases, these new technologies are starting to be used on ordinary citizens.
In the same CIR report, Becker and Schultz showed that the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Department in Texas, spent $300,000 on a surveillance drone, which could be used for border protection. The United States Air Force has been using unmanned drones in the “War Against Terror” for bombing and surveillance missions throughout the Middle East and North Africa. Most recently, the United States is caught in a controversy with Iran when the country shot down an American drone during a surveillance mission. In the United States, an unarmed predator drone played an important role in the arrest of a North Dakota farmer, who was accused of stealing 6 cattle from another farmer. The Nelson County sheriff’s office justified the use of the drone because the office had to execute a search warrant on the farmer, who was armed when the sheriff’s office tried to execute a previous warrant. According to the Los Angeles Times, local police departments along the Mexican and Canadian borders have used the Predator B drones, with the aid of the of local air force bases, to conduct surveillance exercises along the borders, and in the Nelson County Sheriff’s Office example, the local air force base lent its drone to authorities to conduct the warrant. The United States Congress allowed the Customs and Border Protection agency and local law enforcement to purchase and use drones in 2005.
On the ground, local authorities have been displaying and using their new arsenals for crowd control. The new weaponry includes armored vehicles, which were in display at Occupy Los Angeles, a wide array of new sound cannons, and an arsenal of hand-held equipment such as concussion grenades, tear gas grenades, weapon grade pepper spray, and rifles that shoot rubber bullets.
The use of armored vehicles to break up demonstrations were used recently at the 2009 G-20 Summit in Pittsburgh, PA. Authorities protecting the summit mounted Long Range Acoustic Devices (LRADs) on top of the armored vehicles turret. The same vehicles and LRADs were used to break up the Occupy Los Angeles and Occupy Oakland camps, and small hand-held LRADs have been used by NYPD to control protesters. If a person is standing within one meter of a small handheld sound cannon, the cannon will emit 137 decibels, which is 37 decibels louder than a jet engine, and slightly below the pain threshold of 140 decibels. These sound cannons are controversial and can cause permanent hearing damage.
In a recent AP story, “Protest Boost Sales and Fears of Sonic Blaster,” Karen Piper, a University of Missouri English Professor, was documenting the G20 Summit in Pittsburgh, and she experienced hearing damage when she came within 100 feet of a mounted LRAD device. The Pittsburgh Police Department disputes the claim, but if losing your hearing wasn’t bad enough, a newly patent riot shield by Raytheon will use sound technology to suffocate and incapacitate protesters. The shield is designed to send out a pulse of pressure that would resonate with the upper respiratory track, which would hinder the breathing of protestors.
Weapons that are being used to physically disperse protesters are pepper spray, tear gas and flash bang canisters and rubber bullets. Military grade pepper spray was perfected in the late 80’s and early 90’s when scientist created synthetic capsaicin, which is the main chemical in chili pepper plants. The effects of the spray cause immediate closing of the eyes, difficulty breathing, runny nose and coughing. Pepper spray is also used in tear gas canisters, which releases a cloud of the chemical agent when the canister detonates. Flash bang grenades, which were use to disperse the Occupy Oakland demonstrators and critically injured Scott Olsen, are used to disorient suspects or protesters with a flash that attacks an eye’s cells and with a bang that disturbs the fluid the protesters ear. Finally, rubber bullets are made from wood, wax and plastic, which are fired from a standard rifle or paint ball gun. The projectiles are used for crowd control and can be fired as a single projectile or a 12 gauge shotgun round.
In post 9/11 America, with the creation of the Department of Homeland Security and the adoption of the Patriot Act, local law enforcement have become paramilitary units designed to put shock and fear in the minds of the citizens they serve, rather than patrolling and keeping peace in their neighborhoods or towns. Police forces across the country have spent a $34 billion of federal money on assets that have been rarely used, and could have been spent on the progress of the American society.
Since the evictions and the hibernation of the Occupy movement and my last post, a laundry list of developments has occurred. The Chicago Mayor, Rham Emanuel, has shown how he will respond to the supposed protests at the Chicago G8 and NATO Summits this summer, which will be held simultaneously in May. The Chicago Police Department has bought 3,000 new riot helmets, and 2 OMEC drones for surveillance reasons.
Sean Kitchen | Raging Chicken Press Social Media Envoy, Kutztown University student, co-founder of Occupy Kutztown